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Where do the Physical Laws come from?

  1. Nov 15, 2009 #1
    We keep searching for the Physical Laws but is anyone looking for the Laws that brought them about?

    Is it not inconsistent to expect Physical Laws to have no cause?

    Foundations of The Quantum Logic
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 15, 2009 #2
    I think physical laws come from observations.They don't necessarily explain how nature behaves they summarise how we perceive it to behave and any law is only as good as the observations it conforms to and correctly predicts within its own zone of applicability.
  4. Nov 15, 2009 #3

    They likely come from where matter comes from - from the undefined.
  5. Nov 15, 2009 #4


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    If laws are the result of emergent regularity - the self-consistent patterns or attractor states that a set of initial conditions will settle into as an equilibrium - then you could put their "cause" into the future of a system, rather than its past.

    The second law of thermodynamics already has this form, for example. Systems will develop towards their equilibrium.
  6. Dec 1, 2009 #5
    A law is made because we see things that must always happen. Like when you see an object tossed into the air it will always come down, unless its a rocket. So we make a law that says all non rocket objects tossed into the sky come down. Now of course that law is not exactly like the laws of physics but its an approximation. However all the laws we currently have are basicaly just an approximate rule if only by the fact that there should really only be one law of physics that can cover all that exists. That is however not the way we seem to be going in history it seems we started out with one law and then started making many so I would guess in the future we will have more then we do now and not less.
  7. Dec 2, 2009 #6


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    What's wrong with the frame that physical laws just always were, and cause/effect is the result of them? I don't see any reason to go into infinite regress here. The physical laws themselves don't have to obey anything, they are simply obeyed.

    Oh, and the physical laws come from humans who make observations and have a very linear, logical way of thinking and so have to lay down "laws" (now called "hypothesis" or "principals") so that they can derive some kind of consistency out of their environment. Classification and prediction is an important part of human thinking and learning.
  8. Dec 2, 2009 #7
    "Laws" in this context means patterns or regularities that we keep finding.

    I copied the following paragraph from Carl Sagan, _Cosmos_, Chapter 3:

    "If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. Again, there would be no such thing as science. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or, as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives."

    I copied the following paragraph from the essay "On Nature" by John Stuart Mill, 1874:

    "As the nature of any given thing is the aggregate of its powers and properties, so Nature in the abstract is the aggregate of the powers and properties of all things. Nature means the sum of all phenomena, together with the causes which produce them; including not only all that happens, but all that is capable of happening; the unused capabilities of causes being as much a part of the idea of Nature as those which take effect. Since all phenomena which have been sufficiently examined are found to take place with regularity, each having certain fixed conditions, positive and negative, on the occurrence of which it invariably happens, mankind have been able to ascertain, either by direct observation or by reasoning processes grounded on it, the conditions of the occurrence of many phenomena; and the progress of science mainly consists in ascertaining those conditions. When discovered they can be expressed in general propositions, which are called laws of the particular phenomenon, and also, more generally, Laws of Nature."
  9. Dec 5, 2009 #8
    Paul Davies writes talks a lot about this. Why are the laws this way and where do they come from?

    Davies did a lecture on it. He called it the ultimate explanation. You can watch it here.

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  10. Dec 5, 2009 #9


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    Science likes to be certain, and where it can't be certain, it likes to be able to quantify its certainty. We look at what is, things you can measure and test and say (with certainty) "this is what happens when you do this"

    So yeah, "why does it happen" or "where did the laws come from" doesn't fit anywhere in science.
  11. Dec 5, 2009 #10


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    Why would it not fit into a science of self-organising systems?

    Ordinary systems theory is about how systems self-organise through creating boundary constraints. And it is easy to see that the laws of physics are our emergent and prevailing boundary constraints.

    So it is then just a matter of extrapolating the discovered principles of self-organisation to the cosmological scale.

    Here are some refs that illustrate the variety of approaches now being taken to the identification of these principles.....

    http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp4006/CxSys%20Readings/Antichaos/Antichaos%20and%20Adaptation.htm [Broken]



    http://www.ptep-online.com/index_files/2005/PP-02-10.PDF [Broken]

    And more generally, a little excellent history from wiki...
    So principles first needed to talk about life/mind are being generalised to the more fundamental physical level of thermodynamics. So just another step towards ToEs.

    We have already seen attempts to unite the big three - GR, QM and thermo - in efforts like Hawking's. But the difference here is that the cosmologists have been attempting to incorporate century-old thermo and not the thermo that has been emerging the past 30 years.

    However it is the obvious next step IMO.
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  12. Dec 5, 2009 #11
    Matching experiment and observational data with mathematical consistence.

    No explanation is required. This is not equivalent to "to have no cause". Perhaps some day our science will be able to explain "WHY" an electron behaves as it does, as opposed to only giving equations which answer to "HOW" it behaves. No inconsistency so far.
  13. Dec 5, 2009 #12


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    That's why this is a philosophy forum matter. We don't have to be dull and boring. We get to ask the interesting questions.
  14. Dec 7, 2009 #13


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    I don't think you're really saying much with that though. SOC systems still follows laws (I wrote a baby-SOC program myself, once). We still come to a point of infinite regress. Where do the laws that govern the SOC system come from?

    We can cop-out and say that they come from human interpretations of their own observations, but this still doesn't answer the actual question. We're still studying something out there that exists as a valid, repeatable observation. The thing we're studying exists independent of our contemplation of it. Our interpretation may be shallow at best, but that doesn't mean it's purely a figment of our imagination. I believe the OP is still asking about the actual thing itself. Where did the SOC laws themselves come from?

    In science, we don't care why the law is, we just learn to accept that it is. To some of us, the question doesn't make sense because we operate under the assumption that the laws simply always were.

    We could also take an anthropomorphic approach, "the laws are there because they are required to be there for existence to take place" But this probably isn't very satisfying either.

    All in all, I think this kind of question is properly placed in the philosophy forums.
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  15. Dec 7, 2009 #14


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    Your choice. I won't let it stop me.

    But you may be misunderstanding. SOC are ruled by their own emergent global "laws". So a scalefree network will tune itself to an ambient state of connectivity. The global law of that gives the k for the system is part of what self-organises.

    Of course everyday examples of SOC are embedded still in a larger universe and its laws. And it is these that we would seek to explain in a similar SO way.

    Infinite regress does seem a problem. Which is where a more radical step would be required - the abandonment of the idea that beginnings are crisp rather than vague. And as you hint, a need to take a teleological view where attractors are indeed causes found in the future of systems rather than their pasts.

    An attractor is of course always possible "from the beginning", but it is only crisply expressed in emergent fashion at the end.

    And the point is that quite a number of people have and are taking this approach to the laws. Your doubts probably won't bother them either.

    The old shut up and calculate school of thought is fine for society's techologists. They don't need to understand the tools they use.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2009
  16. Dec 7, 2009 #15
    - Can you give me an example a new physical law that has come into being during the present incarnation of the Universe?

    - What mechanism for creating new laws can we imagine?

    - Is there a difference between physical laws and physical theories? I know physicists distinguish between phenomenological theories - descriptive theories such as the Shroedinger equation - and fundamental theories that attempt to construct the universe or some piece of it. While I don't really understand this distinction I think of classical electromagnetic theory that describes the phenomenon of electrical force as an inverse square law and the quantum mechanical description that identifies the force as the sharing of a photon.

    - Einstein wondered whether the laws of the Universe at inception were necessary. As he put it, he wondered whether God had any choice when he created the Universe. This question it seems to me may ultimately have an answer. It would involve two things perhaps. First necessary laws of evolution and secondly necessary initial conditions.

    - Anything prior to the creation confuses me because there would not have been time. The only picture I can make of this is the solution of a PDE which starts with a time zero initial condition. The notion of a solution prior to time zero might make no sense - e.g. in solution of the heat equation where the initial conditions are discontinuous.

    - I can think of new fundamental objects coming into being and changing the functional meaning of physical laws. For instance in a non-linear wave equation a shock discontinuity propogates according to the equation but is a newly created object.

    - If one takes the Heracleitian view that change is primary, one then can ask how form/ specific laws can emerge from it. One would then model a more fundamental process out of which laws could emerge. There are many computer models of intrinsically random processes that reach various equilibria and thus take on the lawfulness of those equilibrium states. In some models there are more than one possible equilibrium and therefore more than one possible untimate set of laws. This would not contradict Einstein but it would give him pause.

    - In current physical theory, and perhaps you could explain this to me, what happens to the laws of quantum mechanics when there is no time - e.g. in a black hole - or before the big bang? If the Hamiltonian still exists but is not evolving then a random quantum mechanical event could occur without time and ignite the the big bang.
  17. Dec 7, 2009 #16
    Personally, I've always thought that the laws of physics are a reflection of some deep, eternal, logically necessary, absolute truth. It is interesting to wonder whether there are actually rules that things in nature follow, or whether we create these rules to describe a sort of complex behavior that arises from very simple things interacting. (Either way, I would imagine that these simple things would still be a manifestation of some absolute truth) I wonder whether the universe really makes use of things like Schrodinger's equation and Newton's 2nd law, or whether these are just ideas we invent and project onto nature. Do our laws ultimately tell us more about ourselves and the way we think, than about the universe around us? I wold think that certainly they must have some foundation in an objective truth...I think that the ultimate goal of science is to obtain that truth.
  18. Dec 7, 2009 #17
    I completely share your view. I sometimes wonder whether the Universe as we observe it and our own consciousness as we experience it are merely hints at the underlying truth which is itself hidden from view.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2009
  19. Dec 7, 2009 #18


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    Of course the world and our models are usefully related. That has been proven by the way the models predict the aspects of reality we measure. So in some sense, we are really talking about the world.

    But the difference would seem to be that the world is a process with emergent regularities. And our models are formal structures that encode the regularities as symmetry statements. So much of this equals so much of that.

    So the world approaches limits. Our models then take these limits.

    It is like how we have come to deal with infinity. It was once accepted as a process approaching a limit - counting forever. Then maths just imagined the limit is reached and used that as a modelling construct.

    The world does not "use laws". It is the law. It is its emergent regularities. But humans use models. And that is done efficiently via a reduction of information. We throw out all the process involved (all the actual counting to reach infinity) and just say it is the law that these regularities exist.
  20. Dec 7, 2009 #19
    I have been reading some of the articles that you have linked. Can you suggest any on biological Evolution? I would be interested in a discussion of punctuated equilibrium from the point of view an emergent regularity in a eco-system. Is punctuated equilibrium actually predicatable?
  21. Dec 7, 2009 #20

    This view gets one more vote.
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